SLS, or sodium laurel sulfate, is a very commonly used surfactant ingredient which is found in shampoo, hand washes, toothpaste, and laundry detergent. A surfactant allows oil and water based products to blend together more easily. The foaming action of the sodium laurel sulfate is of no benefit, it is simply for visual effect.
Like almost anything these days, it is always best to examine a product for your personal needs and the internet provides an overwhelming amount of information about the pros and cons of sodium laurel sulfate. However, most studies have noted that SLS is safe in limited exposures.
As a dental professional, I have found three concerns to address with our patients. The first concern is for the patient who may be more sensitive to detergents or other types of foaming agents, and this patient may develop oral tissue sloughing. Simply put, oral tissue sloughing is the mild peeling of the inner cheeks or lips. The sloughing may cause some mild burning. For most of these patients, simply switching to SLS free toothpaste will remedy this.
The second potential side effect of using SLS is the increase of canker sores. Yet, this mostly occurs in people who tend to develop canker sores anyway. For the person who has this tendency, moving to SLS free toothpaste, avoiding over exposure to the sun, and reducing stresses, may help to reduce outbreaks by 70-80%.
Finally, the third potential side effect is the development of chronic dry mouth and bad breath. For the patient who suffers with dry mouth, avoiding SLS free toothpaste may be the key to avoiding chronic bad breath, aka halitosis. Less saliva in the mouth means a reduced amount of good oxygen loving bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria that live without oxygen will thrive and grow on the tongue where food debris and oral tissues may rest and degenerate. As these substances on the tongue degenerate, sulfur compounds develop and produce bad breath.
Most patients can use any of the over the counter toothpaste just fine and never suffer any of these complications, but for those who do there are several options out there for you. Most of these SLS free toothpaste can be found on the internet, examples are Biotene, Therabreath, or Kiss My Face.